Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 25, 2018
38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
— Luke 10:38-42, ESV
When I began my work as a pastor, I moved into an office where the previous pastor had left a poster on the plaster. It had no pictures, only words which read: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Since his tenure had not left the church in a healthy condition, I was curious as to his interpretation of the “main thing.” So I asked the long-time church secretary and she said, “I don’t know. I don’t think he ever told us.”
Since a mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew, I hope to speak clearly today about the main thing. It is something that should be central in your life and in the life of every church. You can see it on display in a certain person in this passage, as well as the new church that was forming around her. Her sister was busy with many things, but she had definitely learned as a young Christian that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles, two people appear in this text. They are both women, good and godly women, whom Jesus befriended and included in His ministry. They did many things for the Lord Jesus Christ and His kingdom.
Luke tells us that Martha and Mary were sisters who lived together in the same home. Matthew and Mark identify the owner of their house, Simon the Leper, who could have been their father or another close family member. John tells us the two sisters had one brother, Lazarus, famous of course for doing nothing much but getting sick and dying, then coming back to life on the fourth day (Jesus would do him one better). But Luke alone tells this story that focuses on just the sisters and the kinds of lives they lived.
Martha lived a good and godly life. She was busy with many things. She was a servant, which is a very good thing in Christian circles to be called. The Apostle Paul liked to refer to himself as a servant. When we are feeling especially holy and humble, we like to call ourselves servants, too.
Martha was busy, not idle, which is another thing commended in Christianity. She was not a busy body, but busy busting her buns for the benefit of other people. She was willing to tax herself for the comfort of her family, friends, and neighbors. Here we find her working hard to make sure Jesus and the other people in the house had a clean place to sit and some good food to eat. You and I would like going to Martha’s house, We’d look forward to it. We’d leave happy and full and thankful to God for good Christians and good cooks like her.
Jesus was happy with Martha, too. He doesn’t comply with her request, but He doesn’t really scold her, either. It is obvious from other stories, too, that Jesus values and loves Martha very, very much. He loved her service, her willingness to work, and appreciated the many things she brings to the table.
Many things indeed are needed in the Christian life and the life of Christ’s church. Too many Christians are idle in our age and too many church members are inactive. We need to get busy knocking on doors, working in the nursery, bringing food for potluck, keeping the building and grounds attractive, rehearsing church music, preparing lessons and sermons. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, so we need to get busy in the work of the Lord.
To this, Martha would say, “Amen!” And we should “amen” her back. She is the picture of a good Christian, a willing servant, blessed and busily blessing others with many things. But, of the many things Martha brought to the table, not one of them was the main thing. That belonged, at least on this day, to “Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching.”
The Main Thing
Mary sat while Martha served. It riled her sister something awful, but Mary ignored Martha’s orders and complaints. That in itself is not the main thing, however. If it were, if not doing work and ignoring orders were virtues, we’d have a nation full of champions, wouldn’t we?
I’m sure there were times when Mary cooked and Mary cleaned and Mary did many things. But before Mary did anything she placed a priority on the main thing. It, among other things, makes Mary a superlative. If the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, then what is the main thing?
Mary shows us that the main thing in life is listening to the word of God. I’m sure she liked cooking and consuming food. She probably liked good music and good wine. She collected expensive perfume which is another beautiful story in and of itself. She obviously cared about her family and friends. But early in her Christian life Mary had discovered the main thing that Jesus called “necessary,” and “the good portion.”
“The Lord’s teaching” is literally the word of God, since the Lord Jesus Christ was, is, and always will be God. The red letters in some editions of the Bible should be gold, for that’s what the words of Christ are, absolute gold. But it is not just the red letters, but the black letters, too. Jesus’ teaching was perfectly congruent and in total fulfillment of the Old Testament. His Apostles took His teaching and, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote Gospels and Epistles and a Revelation that are purely part and parcel of the word of God.
If Mary were among us today she would purchase the best Study Bible on the market and consume it every day, along with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It would be her main thing, her spiritual food. If Mary were among us today she would seek out and join a church like ours, one without pomp and circumstance, a simple people of God devoted to and devouring the whole counsel of the word of God. Mary would serve as a constant reminder that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, and the main thing is the word of God.
The main person is God, of course, but to get to God you have to listen to the word of God. The word of God opens the window of the soul and pours in the fuel which is ignited by the Spirit to give you life and govern your life for the glory of God. The word of God is the fountain from which all other aspects of spiritual and eternal life flows. This is why the Lord referred to the listening to His word as the main thing.
Without hearing the word of God, we cannot even become truly Christian. How does a person come to Christ for salvation? By grace, of course, through faith, in God as God has revealed Himself. How has God revealed Himself? He has revealed Himself most perfectly in the person and work of Jesus Christ, which was predicated and pictured in the Old Testament, presented in the Gospels, and explained in the remainder of the New Testament.
The main thing (not the main person) we need for salvation is the Bible. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of [God]” (ref. Romans 10:17). The Bible is the main thing used by God the Spirit to convict us of sin and show us how to trust God the Son so that we can be right with God the Father. If we care about our souls and the souls of others, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
Without hearing the word of God, we cannot consider ourselves a true church. We live in a day where megachurches are thriving while the people in them are starving, they just don’t know it. They are fed a diet of pop music and pep talks, when what they desperately need is the plain preaching of the word of God. We live in a day where many churches are now focused on the social gospel, neglecting the saving gospel revealed when great confidence is placed in the plain preaching of the word of God. We are a mile wide and an inch deep, caring more about many things than the main thing.
I like many things. I like programs for every member of the family. I like social ministries which provide food, shelter, and clothing. I like music, and the more instruments the better. But when it comes to choosing a church, I’m on Mary’s side. I can hear her preceding and paraphrasing Patrick Henry: give me the word of God or give me death.
The latest survey I read indicates that when it comes to listening to the word of God, about ten percent do so on a daily basis, and only five percent make it the main thing when choosing a church. People prefer many things, many of which are not bad at all. But I want to be one of the ones who grab for the main thing, I want to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His word, every day in my Christian life and every Sunday in my church life.
Are you a Martha or a Mary? Neither one is bad, but one is best. Be concerned about many things, but build them upon the main thing. At least when you leave here today, you will know what the main thing is, it is hearing and heeding the word of God.